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Kenya: Shocking tolerance of child-sex tourism

Publish Date: 20 Dec 2006

Source: Reuters

Report reveals shocking tolerance of child-sex tourism in Kenya

Nairobi - Kenya's idyllic coastline of white sands and turquoise waters belies an alarming child sex industry, driven by widespread acceptance and even approval of the vice.

According to a joint study released yesterday by the United Nations Children's Fund and the Kenyan government, up to 15 000 girls in four coastal districts are involved in casual sex for cash - about 30% of all 12- to18 year-olds in these areas.

It said a further 2 000 to 3 000 girls and boys were engaged in full-time sex work, some of them paid to perform the "most horrific and abnormal acts".

Kenyans topped the list of abusers, accounting for 38% of the clients, while Italians, Germans and Swiss were the worst culprits among the tourists, representing 18%, 14% and 12% respectively. British, French, American, Ugandan, Tanzanian, Congolese, Japanese, Indian, Austrian and Arab clients were also recorded.

"While many children are driven … because of poverty, the high level of acceptance … makes it relatively easy for children to drift into casual |sex in exchange for no more than extra pocket money," Unicef representative in Kenya Heimo Laakkonen said.

Though tourism is Kenya's second biggest foreign exchange earner, the study said two-thirds of revenues flow back to foreign-owned tour operators and airlines, with local communities gaining little.

A total of 76% of beach boys, bar staff, waiters, hairdressers, curio sellers and community leaders interviewed thought underage sex - as a source of income - was normal and tolerable, or even approved of it for girls. About 60% thought it was acceptable for boys.

"Personally, I have never seen any African family that is disappointed in the presence of an mzungu (white man) in their lives," one elder was quoted as saying in the 87-page report.

"The folks will think they have hit the jackpot. Little do they know of the misery their daughter undergoes. They think the mzungu is a saviour."

The report said clients were willing to pay up to 10 000 shillings (about R1 150) for anal sex, about 100 times the daily rate a child might earn from casual labour. More than 45% of the girls surveyed in Mombasa, Kilifi, Malindi and Kwale districts began selling their bodies for cash, goods or favours when they were 12 or 13 years old. About one in 10 children was initiated in the sex trade before he or she had reached puberty.

"There's a permanent core of child sex workers, so young and so vulnerable that they make decisions that put them at a high risk of HIV/Aids," said the report's author, Sarah Jones. "They play Russian roulette with their lives."

One sex worker told the report's authors that she fled Malindi because of the kinds of services that the mainly Italian clientele demanded, such as performing sex acts with dogs.

The report, based on interviews with 230 people, mainly from the tourism industry, and the diaries of 84 child sex workers, urged Kenya to focus on protecting children and prosecuting adult culprits.

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